Many marriages run into trouble because of a lack of communication between the spouses.
For example, let us say that the husband does something that either irritated his wife or causes her some type of emotional pain.
The husband may be oblivious to the offense perpetrated, even though his wife’s feelings remain hurt.
At first, she may keep her silence, hoping her husband will recognize his insensitivity and attempt to rectify his behavior.
Unfortunately for both, the husband may see no reason to change.
After a while, she might gently approach him in an attempt to share her feelings to help him be more responsive to her needs and concerns.
The conversation may go something like this:
Wife: “Honey, remember the other day when you made that comment about me in front of your friends? Well, it hurt me.”
Husband: “I’m sorry. Let’s kiss and make up.”
Wife: “Sweetheart, I appreciate your apology, but I really don’t think you understand how much your comments hurt.”
Husband: “I do, I do. Look I’m really sorry. Now how about that kiss?”
Wife: “Dear, I don’t think you realize how your comments are a symptom of a recurring theme. It would help me if you heard me explain…”
Husband: “Okay, Okay, I said I was sorry. What else do you want?”
Wife: “I want you to hear me, I want you to…”
Husband: “Look, I apologized already. Can’t you be a good Christian and forgive me? Can’t we just move on?”
Sound familiar? We’re taught to “forget and shake hands,” pretending all is resolved, because, really who wants to trudge through the painful process of discovery, empathy and reflection?
The powerless attempts to dialogue with the powerful, hoping to express deep-seated grievances that the dominant party refused to acknowledge.
Claiming/blaming “the system,” “tradition,” or “right values,” the powerful one refuses to examine or even acknowledge their power and how they use it to an advantage.
Rather than dealing with these issues of power, the husband in the above dialogue hastily sought forgiveness, which cost him nothing, versus understanding, which might result in change.
Who wants to hear about the pain they caused? It’s easier to slap on a fast apology and get the pacification underway.
But the wife in this case refused forgiveness because understanding and change had NOT occurred. She wanted reconciliation, so that these problems could indeed be put behind them, allowing for new growth in their relationship.
Likewise, we who call ourselves Christians and desire to become one body in Christ must seek reconciliation, rather than cheap forgiveness. At times forgiveness must be withheld before reconciliation can occur.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus instructs the faithful to move beyond religiosity by reconciling with those who hold grievances. Specifically Jesus said: “If then, you offer your gift on the altar, and there remember that your companion has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go. First be reconciled to your companion, and then come offer your gift.”
The emphasis is not “if” the religious person remembers they committed an offense, but rather, “when” the offended party had a complaint against the worshiper. The religious person is responsible for seeking reconciliation before coming to God, once aware that an offense exists.
Those who read the Bible from the margins (the powerless ones) have given notice that they are offended by racist, sexist and classist structures (created by the powerful). They await good churchgoing Christians to leave their sacrifices at the altar and seek them out to establish reconciliation.
The results of “cheap and easy” forgiveness without “growing through the process” create a facade instead of real change.
We can all snarl “I’m sorry already!” without really meaning it, while keeping a firm grip on our heart, the real object in question, and most certainly of desire.
In our daily lives, we can offer back-handed platitudes and give-and-take gestures, but the result of our private resistance will end the same way: true reconciliation (and true change) will remain safely (for those who resist it) far-off and out of reach.
Racism, classism, and sexism are examples of this kind of power–where appearances and self-congratulation become the goal, rather than the difficult and narrow path that takes us to the Greater Prize.
What is the true cost of reconciliation? Fortunately for us, Someone has already paid that price. And the price that was paid was neither cheap nor easy.
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.